Sunday, May 12, 2013

New Saints - Murdered for Their Faith by Tolerance

Happy Mother's Day to all Moms.

Pope Francis' canonization of 813 Christians who were murdered during an Ottoman invasion of Italy in 1480 brings to new light a period that has been largely ignored and virtually suppressed by Academia. To consolidate Muslim control of most the Mediterranean, and most importantly, the final Patriarchal seat of Christianity that had not (But still remains in their sights) fallen under Islamic rule*, Italy again fell victim to the armies of Islamic tolerance. The most tragic result of this was that over 800 Christians - those who were not sold into (Mostly sex) slavery, were beheaded one-by-one for refusing to renounce their faith in their God and Savior.

The period following the fall of Constantinople in 1453 was a dark one for Christendom. When the walls of the great city were breached by the Ottoman artillery, her defenders, including the last Emperor, Constantine XI Dragases of the Palaeologus dynasty, were cut down in the streets in a last act of defiance against the enemy. The most effective and vicious assault troops were the Janissaries, Stockholm Syndrome-exemplars who had been taken as youths from conquered Christian communities and raised as Muslim slave-soldiers to be deployed against their former coreligionists. The women, many of which had fled to Hagia Sophia as a final refuge were taken - nuns, commoners and nobility alike, as sex slaves. Three days of pillage ensued.

- The gates to the West were now wide open.

The West awoke to the realization that her indifference to the plight of the Eastern Christians did nothing but leave them as the next target. (There is a lesson for us as we ignore that is happening to the Christians of the Middle and Near East today) Centuries of non-cooperation and even sometimes shameful warfare between the East and West of Europe had borne their bitter fruit. Often bolstered by tributary auxiliary contingents of conquered Christian nations, the Ottoman swarm seemed unstoppable. Mohammed's vision appeared to be within reach.

It was like closing the barn door after the horses had already gotten out.

After a second and ultimately successful siege, (1522) the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman had expelled the Knights of St. John (Hospitalers) from Rhodes. Later he would move against their new bastion on Malta. The heroic and selfless defense of that island, particularly that of the 30-day stand in the outpost Fort Saint Elmo, should be read by all:

While the first and unsuccessful siege of Rhodes (1480) was ongoing, the Sultan Mehmet II, the conqueror of Constantinople diverted some of his forces to begin the conquest of Rome. Purposely glossed over by an anti-Christian Academia and forgotten among the events that rocked Christian Europe of that time, few in the West have even heard in passing of this invasion. Here begins the account of the Martyrs who were canonized:

"...........Mehmet halted the ongoing siege of Rhodes—brilliantly defended by the Knights of Rhodes—and ordered large elements of the Turkish army and navy there to set sail for the Italian peninsula. The fleet comprised at least 90 galleys, 15 heavily armed galleasses, and 48 lighter galliots carrying over 18,000 soldiers. Their initial target was the Italian port city of Brindisi, in Puglia (or Apulia), the southeastern corner of the peninsula along the Adriatic Sea. The city was an ideal choice as it offered a large harbor for the ships. The commander of the Ottoman force, Pasha Ahmet, was one of the most formidable of Mehmet’s generals. He intended to capture the port and then advance immediately north toward Rome while Ottoman reinforcements arrived to consolidate the seized territory............

The city’s walls afforded a wonderful view of the Adriatic, but on the morning of July 29, an ominous sight appeared on the horizon: The Ottoman fleet had landed nearby. Thousands of soldiers and sailors began marching toward Otranto, where the garrison of soldiers numbered only around 400. Messengers were sent north to alert the rest of the peninsula of the danger that had arrived from the sea.

The castle had no cannons, and the garrison commander, Count Francesco Largo, was aware of the limited supplies and water. Medieval warfare, even after the emergence of cannons, was predicated on stark and often grim choices on the part of the defenders of any city or castle under siege. The defenders could either hope to hold out (especially if a relief army was on the way), or they could negotiate a surrender. Surrender was an option to be considered as early as possible, for the longer a siege went on the harsher the terms might become. Should a city or castle fight to the last and have its walls breached, staggering violence usually followed as the conquering force pillaged, vented its pent-up frustration, and searched for loot and treasure.

Surrender or Die

For the citizens of Otranto, the siege of Constantinople was still well-known. When that city fell, Ottoman troops were allowed to pillage parts of the city, but the key moment came when they reached the famed church of the Hagia Sophia. After breaking down the church’s bronze gates, the Turkish troops found inside a huge throng of Byzantines who had taken refuge and who were praying that the city might be delivered by some miracle. The Christians were seized and separated according to age and gender. The infants and elderly were brutally murdered; the men—including some of the city’s most prominent senators—were carted off to the slave markets; and the women and girls were taken by soldiers or sent into a life of slavery.

At Otranto, the terms of the Pasha were ostensibly generous. If the town surrendered, the defenders would be permitted to live. Otranto was forfeit. The answer to the Pasha’s demands was firm: The Christians would not surrender. When a second messenger was sent to the walls to repeat the demands, he was met with arrows from the walls. To settle the issue, the leaders of the castle defense climbed to the top of the tower and threw the keys of the city into the sea. When the determined defenders awoke in the morning, however, some of the soldiers had fled by climbing down the walls and running for their lives.

The few hundred inhabitants of Otranto now faced 18,000 fierce Ottomans with barely 50 Neapolitan soldiers. The siege engines and Ottoman cannons brought down a relentless torrent of stones, and waves of Ottoman soldiers crashed against the walls and tried to climb up to get at the frantic defenders. The people of the town boiled oil and water to pour down upon the enemy while others hurled rocks, statues, and furniture.

The struggle went for nearly two harrowing weeks until, in the early morning of August 12, the Ottomans breached a part of the wall with their cannons. A spirited defense was waged amid the rubble of the broken wall, but the people of Otranto were hopelessly overmatched, lacking any training in vicious hand-to-hand combat, and exhausted by the ordeal of the siege.

Slaughter, Sacrilege, and Slavery
Turkish troops slaughtered the stalwart defenders and then rushed through the city killing anyone in their path. They made their way to the cathedral. As in the Hagia Sophia, the invaders found the church filled with people praying with Archbishop Stefano Agricoli, Bishop Stephen Pendinelli, and Count Largo. The Ottomans commanded the archbishop to throw away his crucifix, abjure the Christian faith, and embrace Islam. When he refused, his head was cut off before the weeping congregation. Bishop Pendinelli and Count Largo likewise would not convert and were also put to death, reportedly by being slowly sawed in half. As was the custom, the priests were murdered and the cathedral was stripped of all Christian symbols and turned into a stable for the horses. The Ottomans then gathered up the surviving people of Otranto and took them as captives. Their ultimate fate was in the hands of Pasha Ahmed.

The people of Otranto faced the same end as the Christians of Constantinople. All of the men over the age of 50 were slaughtered; the women and children under the age of 15 were either slain or sent away to Albania to be slaves. According to some contemporary sources, the total number of dead was as high as 12,000, with another 5,000 pressed into slavery. (These numbers are almost certainly an exaggeration as Otranto did not likely have a population that high.) Nevertheless, worse was still to come.

Death before Apostasy

The Pasha Ahmet ordered the men of Otranto, 800 exhausted, beaten, and starved survivors of the battle, to be brought before him. The Pasha informed them that they had one chance to convert to Islam or die. To convince them, he instructed an Italian apostate priest named Giovanni to preach. The former priest called on the men of Otranto to abandon the Christian faith, spurn the Church, and become Muslims. In return, they would be honored by the Pasha and receive many benefits.

One of the men of Otranto, a tailor named Antonio Primaldi (he is also named Antonio Pezzulla in some sources), came forward to speak to the survivors. He called out that he was ready to die for Christ a thousand times. He then added, according to the chronicler Giovanni Laggetto in the Historia della guerra di Otranto del 1480:

'My brothers, until today we have fought in defense of our country, to save our lives, and for our lords; now it is time that we fight to save our souls for our Lord, so that having died on the cross for us, it is good that we should die for him, standing firm and constant in the faith, and with this earthly death we shall win eternal life and the glory of martyrs. [author translation]'

At this, the men of Otranto cried out with one voice that they too were willing to die a thousand times for Christ. The angry Pasha Ahmed pronounced his sentence: death.

The next morning, August 14, the 800 prisoners were bound together with ropes and led out of the still-smoking battleground of Otranto and up the Hill of Minerva. The victims repeated their pledge to be faithful to Christ, and the Ottomans chose the courageous Antonio Primaldo as the first to be executed.

The old tailor gave one final exhortation to his fellow prisoners and knelt before the executioner. The blade fell and decapitated him, but then, as the chronicler Saverio de Marco claimed in the Compendiosa istoria degli ottocento martiri otrantini ("The Brief History of the 800 Martyrs of Otranto"), the headless corpse stood back upright. The body supposedly proved unmovable, so it remained standing for the entire duration of the gruesome executions. Stunned by this apparent miracle, one of the executioners converted on the spot and was immediately killed. The executioners then returned to their horrendous business. The bodies were placed into a mass grave, and the Turks prepared to begin their march up the peninsula toward Rome. Otranto was in ruins, its population gone, its men dead and thrown into a pit, seemingly to be forgotten...........

They were not forgotten, neither to God nor to men. Their refusal to abjure their faith stands as a lesson and an inspiration to all of us.

*-Of the five original Patriarchal seats of Christianity, only one remains free of Islamic rule. I'll give you a hint, "When in ----, do as the ------ do." The significance of the continued freedom of that city is not lost on Muslims. (See below link)

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